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No. 16 Miami kicks off Mario Cristobal era with Bethune-Cookman

Sportsnaut
Nov 20, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (9) attempts a pass against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Mario Cristobal era has arrived at Miami.

The long-awaited opener will be Saturday when Bethune-Cookman visits the No. 16-ranked Hurricanes.

Cristobal returned to Coral Gables to be the Hurricanes’ head coach after leading Oregon to a pair of Pac-12 championships and a 35-13 record, signing a 10-year, $80 million contract at Miami.

The Hurricanes are 41-point favorites for Saturday’s game, and expectations are high in part because of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, the ACC’s reigning Newcomer of the Year. He began last year on the bench as an untested second-year freshman.

But after an injury to D’Eriq King, Van Dyke went 6-3 as a starter. He passed for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions while climbing into NFL draft prospect discussions.

To keep climbing, Miami, which finished 7-5 last season, will have to replace star wide receivers Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley.

The leading candidates are Xavier Restrepo, Key’Shawn Smith and Clemson transfer Frank Ladson. Other receivers who are competing for time are Jacolby George, Romello Brinson and Brashard Smith.

“Charleston was really reliable for me, always being in the right spot,” Van Dyke said of Rambo’s performance last year. “I see some of these (newer) guys being capable of that.”

The Hurricanes’ offense is counting on tight ends Will Mallory and Elijah Arroyo and running backs Jaylan Knighton, Henry Parrish and bruiser Thad Franklin.

Van Dyke said about 85 percent of new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ playbook has been installed as August ends.

“In the spring and early in the fall, there were some questions about reads and some confusion,” Van Dyke said. “But that’s cleared up now.”

Miami’s defense will be led by 6-foot-5, 225-pound safety James Williams, shutdown corner Tyrique Stevenson and linebacker Caleb Johnson, a UCLA transfer. Miami’s most-hyped defensive lineman is tackle Leonard Taylor.

Bethune-Cookman, meanwhile, is coming off a 2-9 season and will open with Miami for the fourth time in program history.

That record was jarring for Wildcats coach Terry Sims, whose squad went 7-4 in 2019 before skipping the 2020 season due to COVID concerns.

“We are looking to redeem ourselves,” Sims said. “We had a setback last year after having not been together as a team for 20 months. No workouts, no meetings, no practices, no nothing.

“The first time we saw our team following the end of the 2019 season was on August 1 last year. This year, we have grown closer as a team. We’re going to be an aggressive, attacking football team.”

The Wildcats are 0-4 in the all-time series with Miami and have been outscored 169-37.

Sims, who is 36-30 with four winning seasons in six years at Bethune, has settled on Jackson State transfer Jalon Jones as his starting quarterback.

Jones beat out East Carolina transfer Walter Simmons.

Senior tight end Kemari Averett, who made first-team All-SWAC last year, is the Wildcats’ top weapon. He caught 52 passes for 888 yards, a 17.1-yard average, and 11 touchdowns.

Wide receiver Darryl Powell Jr. caught 22 passes last year for 471 yards and a team-best 21.4-yard average.

“It’s a veteran group,” Sims said.

–Field Level Media